There are many important numbers in Louisiana’s state budget, but one that matters most this week: 70. 

That’s how many votes constitute a two-thirds majority in the state House of Representatives. It’s what’s needed to make sure all public school teachers get the $3,000 pay raise they deserve, investments in early childhood services can continue, and construction projects in every corner of the state can get the funding they need.

Without at least 70 votes in the House, those things won’t happen.

The state budget is a moral document that reflects Louisiana’s collective values and priorities. Do we value children, families, and teachers? Should we seize an historic opportunity to rebuild communities and infrastructure that have suffered from decades of neglect?

A two-thirds majority vote is required to lift a constitutional cap on state expenditures. This cap dates back to the late 1980s, a very different time in Louisiana, and artificially restrains the Legislature’s ability to address the state’s many ongoing needs. The Senate has already agreed, unanimously, to lift the cap for this year and next year. The House needs to follow suit. 

Like many states, Louisiana has seen strong tax revenue growth since the pandemic. The state Legislature has taken a conservative approach with this money, putting record amounts away in its two rainy-day accounts. Louisiana now has more than $2.7 billion in reserves – far and away the most in our state’s history.

That still leaves the state with more than $1.2 billion in unbudgeted “excess” cash in the current fiscal year (which only has one month remaining) and an extra $483 million for the upcoming 2023-24 budget cycle. All of this revenue is considered “recurring,” meaning it can be plugged into new or ongoing programs. 

But instead of treating all of it as recurring revenue, Gov. John Bel Edwards has proposed using much of it for one-time expenses: $376 million for highway projects, including bridge construction in Lake Charles and Baton Rouge; $30 million to fortify homes to better withstand hurricanes and lower insurance rates; $86 million for overdue maintenance and repairs on college campuses.  

With these one-time investments, there is still enough money available to provide a meaningful pay raise for teachers and support workers in public schools, preserve the state’s investments in early childhood education and make sure the Louisiana Department of Health has enough resources to manage the end of pandemic-era protections for Medicaid recipients. 

All that’s required is a vote to lift the cap. 

Instead of making these critical investments, the House chose to eliminate the proposed teacher raise, cut $52 million from child care programs, and hamstring the Department of Health in its effort to manage Medicaid renewals after the pandemic. In its place, the House chose to plug money into state retirement programs and speed up the repayment of debt that is already on schedule to be paid by 2029. 

Some conservatives want to compound the damage by steering even more money into the state’s Rainy Day Fund, which would trigger automatic, across-the-board tax breaks for individuals and corporations. Enacting a permanent tax cut, in a year when revenues are projected to peak, would deepen the state’s budget problems in years to come and force future legislators to cut essential programs and services. 

After years of strong pandemic-era revenue growth, most analysts expect Louisiana’s economy – and revenue collections – to slow down in the months ahead. That slowdown, combined with an expiring 0.45% state sales tax in 2025, means the next governor and Legislature will have a harder time balancing the budget and ensuring people have the services they need. 

The last thing the Legislature should do is make things harder. 

What you can do: 

  • Tell the Legislature to avoid making the upcoming “fiscal cliff” worse by triggering automatic tax cuts that mainly benefit the wealthy.